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Thursday, February 13, 2020

Fox Does Comfort Westerns Wide


Edgy Ryan Lends Weight to The Proud Ones (1956)

Bloom had by now come off a rose that was Cinemascope, the process no longer a guarantor of grosses. The Proud Ones took profit in a year when many 20th Fox releases bled red, and did so perhaps for spending less ($1.4 million) and hewing to comfort western formula that was still a safest way to break even, whatever inroads television had made. It was typical at Fox to put contract youth, in this case Jeffrey Hunter, in support of outside names, Robert Ryan here, hope being that junior partners could move up eventually to leads. That had worked for 20th with Robert Wagner, but Hunter somehow lacked the luck, or was it skill?, to move up. He'd headline later, but elsewhere --- Universal with No Man Is An Island, Warners and Brainstorm. A really good performer like Robert Ryan could light up commonplace situations as in The Proud Ones, while at a same time prop up youngsters in audition for stardom. This had been routine since at least mid-30's merge of Fox with 20th Century, discards a Michael Whalen, here, Robert Lowery or Richard Greene there, though women tended to fare better, thanks perhaps to plethora of musicals at 20th. Jeffrey Hunter plays not an easy part on pretty much a single note, leaving it with Ryan to season the younger man's narrow interpretation of a hothead kid with a gun. Was it mid-fifties over-emphasis on bad juves that made cliche of delinquent types? Maybe this was Pat Boone's secret for equaling popularity of even Elvis at Fox, Pat a good lad and model for teens aspiring to be the same.




Ryan was the coiled spring of leading men. Romance did not become him for troubles that disqualified characters he'd play. Ryan in a fadeout clinch was seldom believable. Men he played were damaged starting out and generally got worse as they went. William Holden was often the establishment man with burdens a right woman, or flex of integrity, could overcome, but Ryan was too edgy to finish whole. Even if he survived a finish, you'd figure a next round would get him. The Set-Up was an early career indicator of fates that awaited Robert Ryan. His was the loner with no welcome mat at doors. Something about his voice closed access by others. If Ryan's characters weren't angry, they were getting ready to be. He's the reason, maybe a sole one, to watch The Proud Ones.




For such tension he conveyed on screen, it's surprising how family-normal Ryan was in private life. I didn't know till recent that he co-founded a private school, Oakwood, still operating all these years later, in North Hollywood. First classes were conducted in Ryan's back yard while funds were raised to construct buildings, the actor guaranteeing necessary loans. Proud Ones co-star Virginia Mayo, a Warners borrow, spoke to television from 1956 vantage and said she'd not appear on the tube, a vow soon to topple as movie work tailed off and WB let her go. Within a year, there'd be a Conflict episode, then Wagon Train, The Loretta Young Show, Lux Playhouse, the rest. I'm hard pressed naming a star that didn't fall eventually to harvester that was TV, date and degree of capitulation being the only question.

16 Comments:

Blogger William Lund said...

Robert Ryan was tortured soul of the big screen. Often he would associated with "Bad Day at Black Rock"s as the racist bad guy vs Spencer Tracy, but I liked him best in "On Dangerous Ground" as the burnt out cop who finds redemption through blind girl Ida Lupino. What a great actor!

9:22 AM  
Blogger Michael J. Hayde said...

Hunter's fate as "not much more than a pretty face" was sealed with the 1961 remake of KING OF KINGS... or, as it was known around the industry, "I Was a Teenage Jesus."

Ryan sure looks like he's channeling Gary Cooper in that top still with Hunter.

Michael

1:22 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

A Robert Ryan oddity is "Captain Nemo and the Underwater City" (MGM, 1969). Ryan is Nemo, here a benevolent and avuncular dictator over a Disneyesque underwater city. He even gets sheep-eyed for a pretty widow, who survived a shipwreck with her small son, and courts her politely. His only moments of temper are when other shipwreck survivors try to escape, which might reveal his paradise to the outside world.

A strange film, sort of a last gasp at kiddie matinee fantasy, filmed in England on what looks like a nervous A budget. Sets and costumes are more Willie Wonka than steampunk, and the story is mostly -- but not completely -- scraped of grownup drama and issues. It doesn't work as prequel or sequel to Verne or any adaptation. A good rainy afternoon film, best prefaced with a cartoon and accompanied by movie snacks.

3:03 PM  
Blogger Bill Miller said...

In response to your statement that you are hard-pressed to name a star who did not eventually appear on television, I know of two. Spencer Tracy and Jennifer Jones were two stars who never acted, nor, far as I know, ever interviewed on television.

8:51 PM  
Blogger StevensScope said...

I never could get a liking for JEFF HUNTER. He nearly ruins THE SEARCHERS for me in an OBNOXIOUS performance. WHAT WAS HE (OR FORD) THINKING? AS for RYAN I always point to his remarkable EVIL Master-at Arms vs. Terrance Stamp's GOOD sailor in director Peter Ustinov's magnificent film in Black and White CINEMASCOPE :BILLY BUDD (1962). From THE PROUD ONES (1956)comparing JEFF HUNTER and ROBERT RYAN in scenes together again; this time, on the other side of the (Roman) Law later in the Sam Bronston EPIC KING OF KINGS (1961).

12:22 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

Didn't Fess Parker want to do the Hunter role in THE SEARCHERS, but Uncle Walt shut that down?

7:05 AM  
Blogger MikeD said...

I was going to suggest Randolph Scott as a star who never appeared on TV but not sure if he counts due to retiring in 1961, which is in the middle of the classic film stars move to TV. I'm also not sure if appearing on 'Celebrity Golf' disqualifies him.

8:09 AM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

That's a great question about stars who didn't eventually appear on television. Hats off to Mr. Miller, who came up with two. I thought, "Aha! Charlie Chaplin!" ... and then I realized he was televised when he received his Oscar.

Greta Garbo? Does that count, or is that a foregone conclusion?

How about Clara Bow? I don't think she was ever on television, although she was a mystery voice on radio's "Truth or Consequences."

9:45 AM  
Blogger shiningcity said...

Don't know if there are any baseball aficionados on this site, but I always wished that Ryan would have played the baseball great, Ted Williams. Ryan had an uncanny resemblance to Ted and could have played him as angry as Ted was in real life.

10:17 AM  
Blogger Marc J. Hampton said...

Harder than i thought to come up with "never appeared on TV" stars from the Golden Age....as so many made appearances even if just for an interview or award acceptance.

Only two I can come up with...not yet mentioned... are Norma Shearer and Deanna Durbin. Do they even count? They retired in the 40s but indeed lived through a large chunk of the TV era...and avoided even a single TV interview (that I know of).

I was surprised to see Gable made TV appearances (the Oscars and Ed Sullivan)...I had no idea!

12:24 PM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

I was going to say Jimmy Cagney, but it seems he was on "What's My Line" as a mystery guest.

1:31 PM  
Blogger Randy A. Riddle said...

Even Mae West, in the early 60s, appeared on "Red Skelton" and guested on an episode of "Mr. Ed".

7:29 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Craig Reardon shares fascinating info on Robert Ryan's Oakwood School:


Hi John,

I always enjoy your column and marvel at how you find enough fuel in Hollywood's 'classic' days to keep the fires burning at Greenbriar...yet, you always do.

Here's another personal note. I moved to North Hollywood in 1979, from Redondo Beach. I'd been fairly late to launch, living with my folks 'till I was 26. But work on a couple of earlier film projects finally gave me the wherewithal to act upon buying a house. I first bought one in Manhattan Beach, a nice tiny thing about six or seven blocks from the sea front. But, I got cold feet when at that point in time there was a huge fuel scare. Later to find out it was manipulated by the oil industry, for which I have no great respect. But it scared me enough to decide I'd made an error in locating my first dwelling so far from the sources of possible employment (the so-called South Bay area, vs further north and east in the mid San Fernando Valley area.) Hence, I sold the little house (and immediately made about $10K!---though I was chagrined to learn a few years ago the property is now worth about $2.5M!) and found another one on a cul de sac a bit west and across the 101 freeway from Universal Studios. The point of this is that there was a private school which literally backed up to Valley Spring Lane, that being the name of the street where I bought my new house ca. 1979. And, that private school was the original Oakwood. It wasn't for many years that I learned that Robert Ryan and his wife had started this school! I've been back to this neighborhood in years since I left it, 33 years ago in 1987, and I was amazed to see that the school had expanded backward (toward the street I mentioned in the residential area), and that there appeared to be more buildings, that were much more handsome than the simple structures that were there back when I lived there.

I recall my sadness upon learning when I arrived back home from a trip to London in 1973 that three prominent and beloved actors had died while I was gone. As the cliche goes, they go in threes. They were Lon Chaney Jr., Jack Hawkins...and Robert Ryan.

Craig

8:52 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

I remember when Sebastian Cabot died, two other more prominent actors had passed in the previous few months and I saw the "go in threes" thing invoked in the newspapers. A little while later, a more famous actor passed and "go in threes' was invoked again -- with Cabot bumped for the bigger name. Not a huge Cabot fan, but thought it was kind of mean.

1:38 PM  
Blogger Mike Ballew said...

The notion that death "comes in threes" is such nonsense. There are (very sad) occasions when Wikipedia's "Recent Deaths" index will list four, five or six important names in a short span.

11:38 PM  
Blogger Marc J. Hampton said...


Movie studios should cut you a check.

Ive lost count of how many times I read one of your articles and then say "oh i need to have a copy of that" and bounce on over to amazon or iTunes to buy it....like I just did !

3:53 PM  

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